Is Being a Health Expert Bad for Your Health? How Health Gurus Die Young

Sunday Nov 12 | BY |
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Guru Fitness and health

It’s a rather shocking observation that health gurus  that those who write diet books and give advice on how to live healthy longer appear to live shorter lives than the average person.

They seem to be beaten only by rock stars, who have an average life expectancy of 42 years old for American rock stars, and 35 for European ones!

This is not based on any scientific data, so it may not well be true. However, it’s an interesting discussion that leads to important questions.

Some Examples of Health Experts Who Died Younger Than You Would Expect:

Michel Montignac, a very famous Frenchman who promoted a healthy diet based on the concept of the glycemic index, died at 66 of cancer. He was the inspiration behind the “South Beach Diet.”

Dr. Atkins, probably the most famous diet guru in the world (who weighed 258 lbs at 6 feet tall), died after spending 9 days in a coma at the age of 72 from a slip on the ice. The medical examiner noted that in his health files he had previously suffered a heart attack, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. As no autopsy was performed, it cannot be confirmed if any of these previous ailments affected his inability to recover from his fatal injury.

Paavo Airola, author of “How to Get Well” and led the juice fasting and natural health movement in the 70’s and 80’s, died of a stroke at the age of 64.

Tina Leigh, health coach and author of The Balanced Raw cookbook, died at 38 after surgery to remove breast implants she’d gotten at age 21. Of course, this wasn’t because of her diet, but came as a shock to her fans.

James Fixx, who started the jogging craze in the late 70’s, diet at 52 from a heart attack — while jogging.

Roy Waldorf who was a longevity expert and wrote the book “The 120-Year Diet” died in 2004 at age 79. Not that bad, but nowhere close to the target age he projected.

Nathan Pritikin, one of the most prolific authors on the low fat diet, committed suicide as his body was overtaken by leukemia at age 69. To his credit, his leukemia was diagnosed before his heart disease, which he cured through diet changes. We can reasonably say that he lived longer because of his diet.

Ross Horne, his student, claimed that Mr. Pritikin would have lived longer if he had embraced the fruitarian diet that Ross promoted. He himself died of cancer, although well into his 80’s.

T.C. Fry, leader of the Natural Hygiene and fruitarian movement, died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 70.

Robert E. Kwalski, who wrote the famous book “The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure,” died at the age of 65 of a pulmonary aneurysm.

George Oshawa, who literally invented the macrobiotic diet (which actually means “the way of long life”) passed of lung cancer at the age of 73.

Adele Davis, who pioneered the concept of healthy eating, which unfortunately involved drinking a lot of milk, died at the age of 70 of cancer.

Of course, it would be wrong to say that ALL diet gurus die young. That’s not true, but many of them did.

Good Examples of Health Experts Who Lived Longer Than Average:

Paul Bragg died at 81. Although it was widely claimed by his family that he died from a surfing accident, apparently cause of death was a heart attack.

Norman Walker, juicing and raw food guru, died at 99 (and not at 118 years old as was previously claimed).

Jack Lalanne, who was more a fitness than a diet guru, died at the age of 96 from pneumonia.

Does This Mean Anything?

The fact many health gurus don’t live significantly longer than the average life expectancy, and in many cases live shorter lives, doesn’t in itself mean anything revolutionary.

People are fallible. Health gurus can be mistaken. More importantly… health gurus are human just like you and me!

And as I’ve discovered the hard way: not every health problem can be prevented through a healthy diet and lifestyle! 

Some health gurus practiced what they preached most of the time, some did part of the time, and others didn’t practice their teachings at all.

In some cases these inconsistencies didn’t prevent them from living a long life. For instance, Paul Bragg who used to enjoy an occasional burger at his favorite Honolulu restaurant.

Others, like T.C. Fry, struggled to apply their strict teachings in their own lives, yet lived longer than what their doctors had predicted (T.C. Fry was desperately sick and ready to die in his forties based on his doctor’s opinion).

Some gurus tried to give immortality a shot, like Roy Waldorf, and practiced calorie restriction, only to live slightly longer than the average male life expectancy.

Some diet gurus pretended to have the solution to weight loss, but were themselves overweight when they died (let’s not name names here).

Maybe it’s too much pressure to be a high-profile health guru. People expect you to be perfect all the time. Maybe some health gurus would have changed their minds about a few things they got wrong, but to maintain their image they refused to admit to others and themselves that their program did not work and that they needed to try something else.

Maybe the type of person who writes diet books — mostly men — tend to be a certain overachiever type, bringing to their lives a certain stress that would not have occurred otherwise.

Or it could be that many diet gurus start with poor health in the first place, and then get motivated to find a solution and write a book about it.

The fact that some diet gurus die young should not lead us to the conclusion that all diet advice is bad.

Although some of the alternative health advice is questionable, a lot of it is common sense based on science. And we would be fools to ignore it, even though it may not save us from every illness.

Some good advice includes:

  • Eating a plant-based diet, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoiding refined fats, oils, and carbohydrates.
  • Eating whole foods as they come from Nature
  • Exercising on a regular basis
  • Practicing some form of stress-management technique (like meditation)
  • Avoiding foods that you’re personally sensitive to

Other Things Are Not Black and White.

For example, there’s a debate as to whether a completely vegan diet is better than one that contains a small percentage of animal products.

Some people also feel best on an all-raw diet, although there’s not definite science to say that it’s absolutely the best diet for everybody.

Ultimately, it’s up to YOU to become your own diet guru.

It’s important not to fall into cynicism, and start to believe that nobody is right and that all diet advice is bad. Of course, no one is absolutely right but it’s logical to believe that certain people may be closer to the truth than others.

If a diet guru dies of an illness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their advice is wrong. It could mean that they didn’t practice it, or that it wasn’t enough to prevent their illness.

On the other hand, if a diet guru looks fit and healthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re actually healthy on the inside! Or that they’ll live a long life. Ultimately, only large-scale studies on populations, backed by solid scientific data, can give us a clue as to what is actually going on.

What do you think? Leave a comment below:

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

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26 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

  1. Good list, but you left off J. I. Rodale, founder of PREVENTION and ORGANIC GARDENING, and all of Rodale Press. He died while taping an interview on the Dick Cavett Show in the mid-60s. In the first segment he bragged about how long he would live and how taking hawthorne berry supplements helped his heart condition. They cut to record a commercial, and they thought he fell asleep . . .

    His son Robert Rodale took over, and he died young in a bicycle accident, which was a sport he enjoyed.

    Stuart Berger was a prime example of a weight loss doctor, author and guru who died young, having regained much of the weight he originally lost. The wealth from his practice enabled his cocaine habit which no doubt also contributed to his early death.

    Mark Hughes, founder of Herbalife, wasn’t exactly a guru, but certainly did contribute to bringing the power of herbs to many more Americans, died at 44, another drug victim.

  2. Richard says:

    Had a friend years ago. He was a WW2 veteran. Smoked, I would scold him. He would quit, but he was not able to kick the habit. Ruined his lungs. He told me ya gotta die from something.

  3. The most important thing to remember is that we are human, all a bit different and everything that we do, including what we eat and drink matters. We are all going to die but how is the big unknown question and answer.
    No matter how long I live, I’d like to have the happiest, healthiest life possible. Isn’t that what most people want? Thank you for this post and helpful tips.

  4. Carol says:

    This was a refreshing and interesting article. IMHO, I have learned that the bottom line in life is, “You have to be happy with whatever you are doing and who you are doing it with, including yourself.” If you are happy eating healthfully, enjoy. If you are eating poorly and enjoying, it probably won’t be detrimental to your health. If you are eating poorly and full of guilt, it will kill you.

    When the sproutman, Steven Meyerowitz, was killed in a car accident, in seemingly perfect health, it became clear to me that everyone has their time. We are not in charge. Therefore, whatever you do, do it with joy and hope that it brings you joy.

  5. Thi says:

    It’s been my observation that unhealthy “health gurus” and their followers make one big mistake: they keep eating starches (refined carbs). Starches dry out the body tissues by sucking water from where its needed, leads to an acidic body pH, restricts circulation, and in the end greatly shortens life span.

    And I’d like to add, one MUST eat organic!

  6. John says:

    I am grateful for all the health experts that make so much info available
    over the internet. I am a Christian for about 6 years now. In my experience,
    all the experience and knowledge about food is meaningless without Christ.

    I have family members that are into eating healthy. One is into Paleo. Another,
    a balance of fruit, vegetables, meats, fish and Organic as often as possible.
    But neither one knows the Gospel and they reject their own family members
    witness. I am the only one in my family that fasts.I own a fasting book written by the Braggs.
    thanks for all that you do.

    John

  7. Paul says:

    Let’s not forget Stanley Burroughs originator of the Master Cleanse-87 years old when he died.

  8. Karen says:

    I think we are only human and although we can eat healthy most of the time sometimes ice cream and chocolate and other not so healthy things get you off track. It is also very hard to avoid chemicals and GMOs and other things not so good for the body in much of the food today.

  9. I am now 80 and in good health and am not on any medications just vitamins. I believe in keeping my weight at 138 lbs. and I am 5′ 8 and eating sensibly (everything in moderation). People tell me that I do not look or act my age. God is in control of how long we live and at my age, I am still very active and try to keep a positive attitude and share the love of Jesus with everyone I meet.

  10. Rashnu says:

    If you discover something that makes you happy/healthy, it’s normal that you want to share this with the world. But what works at one point in your life doesn’t have to work at another point. Everything changes over time.

  11. Caroline says:

    I note that diet gurus’ causes of death are relative to what their diets claimed to protect people from. Classic law of attraction. That which you love, or fear, or focus on will find you! Oh and Frederic, you omitted the #1 health tip which I believe to be laughter ?

  12. Lynne says:

    Dear Fred, I think you are absolutely right, one diet is not for all. I do the raw food diet following your books closely, for me I can now listen to my body and feel what is right for me. But other people may not suit this. Interestingly the other Day i took a friend to see a cardiologist. The cardiologist was huge morbidly obese, he must have seen people die of cardiac conditions and still was doing the same things that he knew would result in a cardiac event!!! We are all different psychologically and physically. There is a saying in England ” there is nowt as queer as folk” and it’s is so true!
    Regards Lynne.

  13. Glenn Layman says:

    I have enjoyed all these contributions! Let me tell you about my father. First of all he is 94 years old. He is a man of faith in God. He maintains a positive outlook on life. Almost weekly he is involved in voluntary service in his community. Dad always grew a lot of garden stuff including a lot of “greens”. They would eat homegrown meat, eggs butter and cream. He still enjoys icecream In his early twenties when all young men were required to get a physical for the military he was sent home with a “heart murmur” but his heart has never bothered him. After retirement he and mom were volunteer cooks for clean-up and restoration crews in storm ravaged areas. He finally gave up driving 2 years ago but this spring he purchased a 3 wheeled battery operated scooter! Oh by the way- he was 48 years old when my youngest brother was born!

  14. We think we know what living and eating health is, but we are just beginning to discover many things. The impact of our current life style does need to be looked at closely. We take in entirely too many toxins and have just begun to understand how our bodies really use energy. These Guru all have contributed much and we have much more to learn but first we have to stop POISONING ourselves with toxic food. Thanks for the posting of this article. This is a great subject.

  15. Anthony says:

    Hi
    I have no medical background whatsoever, but did they check there SOD levels when they died,
    because the Galapagos Tortoise can live to 180 years of age and they have the most SOD in there
    metabolic tissues than any other species. I got this information from Dr Richard Cutler. ???

    Anthony Fry, Australia

  16. Beth Daniel says:

    Aloha Fred,
    In working as a healer of those with chronic conditions for the past 15 years, we must consider the emotional/mental aspects of health and dis-ease. The difference between health and lack of health is not only physical (which involves avoiding foods and products that a particular individual is sensitive or allergic to, alerting the body to hidden pathogens, mercury, healthy detoxification, etc.), but also involves the healing of trauma which puts the body into a fight or flight state where healing is not possible. All physical health issues also have an emotional/mental component of some kind. All true healing involves connection to the true self, others, and the Divine. I have witnessed many people age because of unhealed and frozen negative emotions and pain they have never processed. This (along with chronic dehydration and bad food choices), is one of the major components of aging.

  17. Linda says:

    Interesting read. I personally think it is not how long you live, rather how healthy. People are living longer but a lot are suffering so much the last 20 odd years. I aim to live as healthy as I can, free of pain (if that is even possible), and be happy. No one has the right answer but there is enough proof that a plant-based diet is far better for you than the standard meat, dairy, wheat, sugar diets. Growing your own food helps to get vegies straight from the garden as fresh and full of nutrients as possible, rather than weeks old vegies that have been in cold storage or treated in some way to appear fresh.

  18. db says:

    It is nice to see a post like this. I’ve been noticing the relentless ambition via the internet of the alternative health idea and how the information is being communicated and beginning to wonder if it may be counterproductive to actual healing. This post precipitates the question, “At the end of the day, what is the most important factor in someone feeling well and feeling healthy, and getting well if they feel unwell?”

    On the subject of “alleged”food allergies, or just some reaction in the blood to particular foods, foods that one may have eaten their entire life and felt healthy for 30 years of that life, a call was placed to ImmunoLabs to inquire about the significance of these tests. Someone in customer service indicated in all her years of seeing these tests, she has yet to see one person with “0 sensitivities”, with the fewest she has ever seen being 3. So the question was posed to the naturopath I am working with, “You know what a great study would be, doing this food sensitivity on 10,000 people, 5,000 that feel great with no health challenge, and 5,000 who are not feeling healthy with tangible health “challenges”, and see what the results are. Will everyone have some degree of reaction to food? Has this study been done one wonders? If not, why? It could really mitigate the “fear” surrounding this particular dynamic.

    So what is the real key? The stress management recommendation may be the most important factor at the end of the day. People that are looking to recover wellness want to be well but do we really know how to do this effectively? Are people being triggered into a continuous fear response by continuously feeling the feelings they feel seeing all the summits and the ideas and the passion on the internet saying “this is why you are unwell”. And then they try some things, perhaps full of subconscious anxiety because they want to feel well again and things they have tried before did not help, and if these things are not working to help them the fear quotient continues to rise. And is it the fear response and corresponding behaviors in life that is the real root of why people get out of balance and “develop dis-ease” and have symptoms in the first place?

    Were some of the health experts who were working with the challenges mentioned in this article ultimately living in a fear response day in day out as they were presenting their material and/or seeking to heal themselves?

    Nice to see this post.

  19. YOU GOT IT RIGHT111111 I have experience with several of the teachers you mentioned. I did everything probably right and got colon cancer, Life is not simple

  20. I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since age 18, eating alot of fruit. I’m 64 and have never been sick except occasional colds that don’t last long. My philosophy is to eat balanced, pray thankfully (meditate) regularly, treat others kindly, apologize often. Then when your time is up, and no one knows when that is except he/she/it who created you, go quietly, happily into the good night. Who knows, it may be better on the “other side”. That’s what I’m hoping for.
    To me, quality of life, including physical health, is superior to quantity of years lived.
    Genetics counts for more than we think.
    Best wishes to all folks with good intentions.

  21. Christian says:

    You know a guru is a guru when they die and their legacy continues… I looked at Tina Leigh’s site and the author page hasn’t changed… http://hautehealthnow.com/meet-tina-leigh/

  22. Such a wonderful, wise article and so many wonderful comments, thanx to all! You forgot my favorite teacher Andreas Moritz, I don’t know how old he was maybe late 40’s? He was gorgeous and the picture of health, always beaming. All of a sudden one day he is gone. No one knows the story which is sad because it leaves us all wondering if what he was teaching and we were following and excited about, in fact, worked against him? I look a lot to those who are left, of all ages, and admire all of us for trying to help ourselves and share with others. I believe most of illness is psycho-spiritual. We are out of whack without true nature, out of touch and inauthentic and this takes its toll on our bodies. I believe our bodies outpicture our minds and our souls, and all the disillusionment of following goals our whole life that finally we recognize do not satisfy as we thought they would. Without reverence and compassion for all of life, with nothing and no one excluded, we are incomplete beings, and to an extent, mourning this loss of our God-selves. Namaste.

  23. Hey, Frederic, moi aussi je vive à Montréal (Pointe-Claire) et j’apprecie vos commentaires. Certes, j’ai besoin car je travaille fort pour ma santé-j’ai même suivi plusieurs de vos ‘vedettes’ ; j’ai commencé avec Davis pour traversé par Atkins et, un peu comme toi, j’ai faite ‘le tour’. Maintenant, c’est le docteur John McDougall qui m’inspire et j’espère rester avec lui ma vie. Merci de tout vos efforts, je viens de te connaître en entrevue avec chef AJ…..Beethoven est aussi mon favori de tout temps…donne-moi un email ou coup de fil, n’est-ce-pas?

  24. Eric says:

    Light not food is the most element for your health. Too much artificial blue light throws off the bodies clocks leading to disease. It can even throw the spine out of alignment, and fix it with the red spectrum. The hidden issue of our time is modernization. We are killing ourselves off.

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